Comment: Scotland could be Jeremy Corbyn’s undoing

If Corbyn can't unite the party, independence could be Scotland's only alternative to the Tories


Jeremy Corbyn is best placed, if not the only person, who can reclaim Scotland back for the Labour Party. That was the confident assertion made by many of the new Labour leader’s supporters in the run up to his election.

Make no mistake about it, next year’s elections to Holyrood are not only crucial for the Labour Party as a whole, but in all likelihood will determine Corbyn’s fate at the helm of the party.

Officially the party leader in Scotland has welcomed the election of the left wing firebrand. ‘I look forward to working with him’, declared Kezia Dugdale shortly after the leadership result was announced. “I hope that those who were lost to us in the past will start to listen again as both Jeremy and I put forward radical policies that we hope will win back support for Labour”.

Warm words yes, but contrast this with her assertion last month that a Corbyn victory would leave Labour ‘carping on the sidelines’.

Speaking to the Guardian she continued by saying of the prospect of Corbyn winning the leadership:

“There are loads of people [in the Labour party] who are quite prepared to say ‘Och, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t look like a prime minister, there’s someone who’s authentic and says what they believe’.

“But I want there to be a Labour government; otherwise I’m wasting my time. I don’t want to spend my whole life just carping from the sidelines.

“So you have to convince me that he can be [prime minister]. Here’s a guy that’s broken the whip 500 times. So how can the leader of the party enforce discipline with that record?”

As a Labour Party member for the last 15 years I can only conclude that Ms Dugdale was correct, and when it comes to Scotland Corbynites should assess the sobering evidence that proves that their man is not going to revive the party’s fortunes north of the border.

Firstly, the public view. Polling published earlier this month by Ipsos Mori for STV found that while 23 per cent of voters in Scotland would be more inclined to vote Labour next May with Corbyn as leader, 34 per cent said they would be less likely to do so whilst 38 per cent concluded that having him as leader would make not a blind bit of difference.

Quite simply, the Corbyn camp would do well to avoid talking up his chances of some major breakthrough north of the border. A bit of humility would not go amiss.

Secondly, Nicola Sturgeon’s declaration that the SNP’s manifesto for the Scottish parliamentary elections next year will outline the circumstances under which it would be prepared to pursue a second referendum came as a poll conducted by YouGov found that 48 per cent of Scottish voters supported independence. That’s three percentage points higher than the 2014 referendum.

Such figures remain eye watering and it would be complacent in the extreme to think that in the space of eight months Jeremy Corbyn will be able to overturn the years of rot that have set in in the Scottish Labour Party.

Finally there is the issue of unity. Soon after Corbyn’s victory Nicola Sturgeon tweeted:

“If Lab can’t quickly show that they have credible chance of winning UK election, many will conclude that Indy only alternative to Tory gov.”

She was right. Corbyn’s challenge now is to show that he can genuinely unite the party, and that means persuading those on the moderate wings of the party to support his project. If he can’t, Scottish voters will conclude, as many now already have, that Labour is not serious about challenging the Conservatives as a credible, One Nation government in the waiting and that only independence will keep the Tories out.

And let me be clear: as a party member I’m all for unity, but it has to be genuine unity.  If Labour MPs cannot, in all honesty, bring themselves to recommend to their voters that Jeremy Corbyn should be prime minister they have a duty and a responsibility to say so and not serve in his Shadow Cabinet.

The public will see right through false declarations of support for a leader who so many Labour MPs clearly disagree with fundamentally.

Corbyn’s headaches will only just be beginning, but Scotland could be his undoing next year. I say that not with glee or hope, but out of a sad realism about the dark place the party now finds itself in.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.